How to give yourself the best chance of moving house during the Covid-19 pandemic
Maria Richards, Partner in Coodes Solicitors’ Residential Property team, outlines some of the ways to give yourself the best chance of moving house during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to the property market. Thankfully, with some social distancing measures being relaxed, there are signs of recovery. We are now experiencing a surge of interest from people seeking to buy and sell their properties. However, anyone looking to move house during the pandemic should be aware of key considerations and how they could affect the process.
1. Understand your options around exchange and completion
If you are approaching exchange of contracts and completion on a house purchase during the pandemic, you will need to consider who bears the risk. There are three main options and you will need an experienced conveyancer to help you understand these so you can make the right decision.
One option is to proceed in the usual way by agreeing a fixed completion date. This is the usual process, in normal times, but it may be more risky during the pandemic, especially if there is a chain. That is because if someone in the chain is unable to complete on the agreed date, you will suffer a significant financial penalty. To reduce the risk, the time between exchange and completion should be as short as possible.
During the Covid-19 crisis, some house buyers are opting to simultaneously exchange and complete. While this reduces the financial risk, there are other disadvantages, including the fact that completion is not guaranteed.
Another option for some of our clients is to put in place a conditional contract, which ensures the buyer and seller meet specified conditions. However, this will only work if everyone involved in the chain has the same provisions within their contract.
The best approach is to discuss these different approaches with your conveyancer to see which one is most appropriate to you. At Coodes, we will discuss options with clients on a case-by-case basis to ensure we mitigate any risk, both legal and in terms of everyone’s safety.
2. Ensure your conveyancer can provide a full service remotely
The Government recently published guidelines for the housing market during the Coronavirus pandemic. These are designed to allow property sales and purchases to continue safely.
When you are choosing a conveyancer during these times, it is vital to ensure they can provide you with a full service while maintaining social distancing. You will also need your conveyancer to understand the different challenges and legal issues around moving house during the pandemic.
As a large regional firm, we are confident that there has been minimal disruption to our services. Our business continuity plan, which includes effective remote working, continues to prove successful and we are reviewing this regularly in light of the continuing developments. We are committed to continuing to provide an uninterrupted and excellent level of service to our clients during the current pandemic.
This includes streamlining our processes so clients are able to complete forms and documentation electronically and provide evidence of identity via an app without having to leave their home.
Where a face-to-face meeting would usually be required, each of our lawyers can make video conference calls to clients and we are also sending documentation to our client with the facility to electronically sign.
We are able to process conveyancing transactions and are regularly keeping in touch with third parties such as search providers, estate agents and surveyors regarding the impact on their services and timescales.
3. Be flexible and be prepared to delay your move
In normal times, the average conveyancing transaction will take approximately eight weeks. At the start of this pandemic, we saw that increase due to the fact that moves were being held up by the lockdown restrictions. Since the restrictions were relaxed, we are now seeing the time between instruction and completion being closer to the usual timescales. However, your move could still be affected by this pandemic and take a little longer, especially if you are part of a large chain. If anyone in the chain becomes ill or displays Covid symptoms, they will have to self-isolate, which could delay your move.
It should be possible for the necessary searches to be completed and we are keeping in regular contact with those providers. However, while they are still operational, they have told us it may take longer than usual for them to provide data, including search results and survey reports. This could delay mortgage offers and the conveyancing transaction.
4. Don’t be pressurised and take time to read reports
Moving home can be stressful. During the pandemic, most transactions have little or no time between exchange and completion rather than the usual one week gap. Moving dates are often given with little notice, with buyers being pressured to comply with deadlines.
The easy road may seem to be to provide instructions to your solicitor to proceed without taking all of the information in and understanding everything you need to know about the title deeds and searches. You should not feel pressurised into achieving the unrealistic expectations of other parties in the chain. Take time to talk things through with your conveyancer before you make any firm decisions.
5. Stay safe and adhere to Government guidance
Government guidance, including social distancing, must be adhered to, which means that anyone self-isolating should not move. Any moves that do take place must be in accordance with the guidance published by the Housing Secretary.
While we will do everything we can to ensure your property purchase goes as smoothly and quickly as possible, we will put everyone’s safety first and continue to adhere to the latest Government guidance.